Several bills are being weighed by Florida lawmakers to specifically address undocumented immigrants and those who come into contact with them within the state. Senate Bill 1718 includes a contentious provision that would classify the act of hiding, sheltering, or transporting an individual whom Floridians know or should know is residing in the United States illegally as a third-degree felony. This measure would apply to both concealing individuals within the state and transporting them into Florida. The bills would also require hospitals to ask patients their immigration status and report to the state, invalidate out-of-state driver’s licenses issued to immigrants in the country without legal permission, and direct the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide assistance to federal authorities in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.
If the new bills are passed, it would be possible to be charged with a third-degree felony if someone knowingly transports, conceals, or harbors individuals who are in the country without legal permission, and could face up to five years of imprisonment as a consequence. Although sponsors have said the legislation is not intended to target ordinary Floridians in their day-to-day lives, its potential applications are broad, legal analysts said: An American adult child of an immigrant in the country without legal permission driving a parent, a lawyer driving a client to court, or someone driving a sports team that had a player without U.S. legal status could be exposed to criminal charges. An additional worry was the bill’s amplified sanctions for individuals aiding undocumented immigrants; those who shelter or transport an undocumented immigrant into or within the country may be subjected to felony accusations.
Approximately 20% of Florida’s population consists of immigrants, with an approximate count of 800,000 lacking legal permission to be in the country. Moreover, 722,000 American citizens residing in Florida are living in households with one or more immigrants who are in the country illegally. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 772,000 undocumented people live in Florida, making up 4 percent of the state’s population. Out of all the undocumented residents in the state, 65 percent have been residing in the United States for a period of five years or longer.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has separately proposed eliminating in-state college tuition for students in the country without legal permission and beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, who were brought to the United States as young children. In 2014, the tuition law was put into effect by Rick Scott, who is now a Republican U.S. senator, and was the predecessor of the current leader. DeSantis has put forward a proposal to eliminate a state law from 2014, which allowed children who were brought into the country illegally by their parents to benefit from in-state tuition. The immigration bills do not contain that measure.
“We need to do everything in our power to protect the people of Florida from what’s going on at the border and the border crisis,” DeSantis said at a news conference on February 23 during which he unveiled his proposals and spoke from a lectern emblazoned with the words “Biden’s Border Crisis.”
On Wednesday, local groups congregated in Sanford to protest against a legislation that they claim would have far-reaching consequences for immigrant communities in Florida. Santiago wrote that he recalls the initial Hispanic caucus’s journey to Tallahassee with the sole objective of advocating for their community. “Do the heirs now strut around in the shoes of an anti-immigrant individual, carrying out their tasks without considering the consequences for our communities?”
Critics argue that the proposed bills would unfairly target and criminalize immigrants and their families, as well as anyone who interacts with them, such as healthcare workers and transportation providers. They also warn that these measures would have a devastating impact on families, communities, and the state’s economy, as many immigrants work in essential industries such as agriculture, construction, and hospitality.
Moreover, opponents say that the bills would erode trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, as people would be afraid to seek medical care or report crimes for fear of being reported to immigration authorities. They also warn that the bills would result in costly legal challenges and damage Florida’s reputation as a welcoming and diverse state.
“This is something that we’re very concerned with, we’ve all seen that this is language that is very similar to the fugitive slave act of 1850, where you deputize everyday citizens to report to enforce federal government sort of enforcement activities,” said Metellus. “It’s language that’s very close to what you see in the Fugitive Slave Act from 1850, and so that is something very concerning for us.”
In conclusion, the proposed bills targeting undocumented immigrants in Florida have sparked controversy and opposition from a wide range of stakeholders, who argue that they would unfairly criminalize and harm immigrant communities and their families, erode trust between law enforcement and these communities, and damage the state’s economy and reputation. As the bills continue to make their way through the legislative process, it remains to be seen whether they will become law and what their impact will be on Florida and its immigrant residents.
0. “Florida Pastors Worry This Immigration Bill Could Infringe on Religious Liberties” Reason, 4 Apr. 2023, https://reason.com/2023/04/04/florida-pastors-are-worried-this-immigration-bill-could-infringe-on-religious-liberties
1. “Activists rally across Florida to stop immigration bills” WESH 2 Orlando, 5 Apr. 2023, https://www.wesh.com/article/immigration-bills-florida/43522936
2. “DeSantis Pushes Toughest Immigration Crackdown in the Nation” Yahoo News, 10 Apr. 2023, https://news.yahoo.com/desantis-pushes-toughest-immigration-crackdown-123747547.html
3. “Gainesville immigrant groups protest proposed state legislation” The Independent Florida Alligator, 7 Apr. 2023, https://www.alligator.org/article/2023/04/gainesville-immigrant-groups-protest-proposed-state-legislation
4. “Religious leaders fear Florida bill could make it a crime to take immigrants to church” Orlando Sentinel, 6 Apr. 2023, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/politics/os-ne-florida-immigration-bill-20230406-kp2znypjuzczrde23nx4uwhjri-story.html
5. “Organizations gather in Sanford to rally against immigration legislation in Florida” WFTV Orlando, 5 Apr. 2023, https://www.wftv.com/news/local/organizations-gather-sanford-rally-against-immigration-legislation-florida/MLSXFXGHY5HDJJUFNZNWTCBE3I/
6. “Fabiola Santiago: Lawmakers with no pride in their immigrant heritage help DeSantis crush our communities” Brunswick News, 8 Apr. 2023, https://thebrunswicknews.com/news/national_news/fabiola-santiago-lawmakers-with-no-pride-in-their-immigrant-heritage-help-desantis-crush-our-communities/article_834d19c4-2a58-595b-a647-c8871bc45970.html
7. “Florida Latino religious groups alarmed by DeSantis-backed immigration bill” Yahoo Life, 8 Apr. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/florida-latino-religious-groups-alarmed-003610049.html
8. “Proposed Florida law would make it illegal to transport undocumented migrants” CBS News, 8 Apr. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/miami/news/immigration-bill-concerns-undocumented-migrants-law/